The “Sensitive Area” Battle is Officially Scary and Absurd

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posted on August 22, 2022
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The “sensitive” place or area debate is now underway. Any law establishing a “sensitive place”—where the lawful carrying of firearms for personal protection by law-abiding individuals may be restricted or prohibited—must be clearly defined, narrow in scope and include certain parameters if it is to be considered constitutional under the correct interpretation of the Second Amendment. Most reasonable people would agree to that. The “sterile” area of an airport would be a good example of such a place. There, after passengers awaiting to depart for flights have all been screened to try to ensure none are in possession of items prohibited from being carried onto commercial aircraft, airport security personnel are expected to be able to handle any disturbances or illegal activity.

But some anti-Second Amendment officials in various states and jurisdictions are trying to expand these carry bans everywhere they can.

This is a debate that could impact Americans wherever they live, but right now, the most-egregious example is New York. 

And it’s one Justice Clarence Thomas foresaw when he wrote the majority opinion in the NRA-affiliated case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

“Put simply, there is no historical basis for New York to effectively declare the island of Manhattan a ‘sensitive place’ simply because it is crowded and protected generally by the New York City Police Department,” wrote Thomas.

While New York politicians have yet to declare Manhattan a gun-free zone, they have pushed back against the ruling. In a long list of new “sensitive places,” state legislators named parks, which by definition includes the biggest park in the lower 48, the Adirondack Park in upstate New York. Interestingly, the Adirondack Park is home to about 130,000 residents—all of whom will effectively see their Second Amendment rights erased when the law takes effect on Sept. 1.

This law is in direct conflict with NYSRPA. When the U.S. Supreme Court recently confirmed the right of Americans to “bear” arms in this case, it didn’t do so in some mealy-mouthed manner that indicated the ruling was a difficult decision or was uncertain in any way.

Justice Thomas wrote, “The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not ‘a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees. We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”

Taking it a step further, Thomas specifically addressed New York’s punitive carry law, concluding: “Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State's licensing regime violates the Constitution.”

For residents of the Adirondack Park, which is about half private land and half publicly owned, the law puts them in a dilemma. Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, the state NRA affiliate, said he has received “hundreds of calls” about the ban from residents of the Adirondacks who are confused and frustrated.

While many Republicans opposed the state legislation, the ban is also drawing some bipartisan opposition, with at least one Democrat New York lawmaker up in arms over the Adirondack Park’s inclusion in the measure.

“It’s deeply concerning that simply possessing a gun in the Adirondack Park is now considered illegal,” Assemblyman Billy Jones said in a released statement. “There are thousands upon thousands of Adirondack Park and North Country residents who have concealed carry permits yet there have been no shootings in public with legally permitted concealed carry gun owners in our region in recent memory.”

The New York State Sheriffs’ Association expressed frustration at both the content and quick passage of the measure that included the Adirondack ban.

“The legislature’s leadership claimed, and the governor agreed, that it was a ‘necessity’ to pass the bill immediately, without waiting the Constitutionally required three days, even though the law would not take effect for two full months,” NYSSA said in a Facebook post. “Consequently, law enforcement agencies and the courts, which bear most of the responsibility for implementing the new licensing laws, were deprived of any opportunity to point out to legislators the burdensome, costly and unworkable nature of many of the new laws’ provisions.

“And, of course, our citizens, whose rights are once again being circumscribed, probably again in unconstitutional ways, had no opportunity to communicate their concerns to their legislative representatives.”

In the end, the Supreme Court ruling in NYSRPA allowed for gun bans in limited sensitive areas. And while it warned New York lawmakers against banning guns in large swaths of the state, cynical politicians still found a way to ignore the Court’s clear language and categorize many areas as “sensitive places,” thereby continuing to infringe upon the rights of law-abiding New Yorkers.

While NYSRPA was indeed a victory, it was also the beginning of a new round of court battles to regain Second Amendment freedoms for all Americans regardless of where they live.

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